This story is based in the 5 Earths Project continuity, and is built on what was written before by myself, Brad Cobb, and Martin Maenza. For those unfamiliar with the setting, it assumes that there were 5 earths left after the great Crisis on Infinite earths. Earth 4 is a combination of Charlton and MLJ/Red Circle characters.
Dr. Kon Fu waited at the San Francisco airport. His nephew was due in from Hong Kong. Dr. Fu waited patiently for the plane. He had not seen some of his relatives in a few years. His duties kept him busy.
He briefly wondered what his nephew, Jackie, would be like. He had heard the boy had started probing into strange places. His father had written about a problem that only Dr. Fu could deal with.
Dr. Fu had not liked the sound of that. He dealt with old things beyond the knowledge of most. If Jackie had been noticed by such, the problem could be huge, or tiny. It all depended on what exactly was involved in the struggle.
Dr. Fu hoped it was something tiny this time.
The last case he had been a haunting that had nearly dropped the building down on him. He wanted something he could just say nothing would happen.
Not a fight to the finish with the demon hosts of the Yama Kings.
Dr. Fu looked around the waiting room, feeling that things were going to move beyond his control.
Dr. Fu saw his nephew walk out of Customs and smiled. He walked over to meet the younger man. Two other men rushed over first, cutting the magician off from his relative.
Dr. Fu frowned as the two men grabbed Jackie under his arms, picking him off the floor. The young man began to question the men loudly. Several other men surrounded the struggling men in a circle of protection from the other passengers.
Jackie spun himself head over heels in the grip of his assailants, breaking free of their grips as he landed. Then he jumped up, spinning in place, elbows clearing him room.
Dr. Fu smiled, as he quietly stepped forward. His fingers wrote a symbol on the air. One of Jackie's captors fell asleep when the symbol wrote itself on his forehead.
Jackie jumped up, spinning in place, foot clearing a space. He landed gracefully, ducking a knife swipe from one of the men. That man screamed several octaves higher as he was punched below the belt.
Dr. Fu stepped forward, writing in the air with his fingers. Several signs landed on the attempted kidnappers. They fell asleep, quietly slumping to the tile floor.
One of the men turned to face this unexpected interference. An ornate knife gleamed in his hand. He stabbed at the doctor with the knife. One hand caught the wrist, the other slapped the blade out of the man's hand. Slaps began to land on the man head as he tried to back up from the gray‑haired magician.
Jackie jumped, flipped, and landed outside the circle. He turned, bringing one fist, then the other against the man's face. He took a deep breath, as he faced the collapsed circle.
"Uncle!," Jackie said.
"Hello, Jackie," said Dr. Fu. "Why are you always in trouble?"
"This is not my fault, Uncle!," Jackie exclaimed, blocking a punch with one arm, while punching another man in the face. "I don't have anything worth this much effort."
Dr. Fu blocked one man, writing on his arm with a free fingertip. The man froze in place, seized by the spell glowing on his arm.
At least they had a prisoner to question now.
Airport security rushed on the scene. The kidnappers on their feet ran in separate directions. The guards couldn't stop the fleeing men. They left behind three, and the one Dr. Fu had frozen in place.
"What's going on here?," said the first security guard on the scene. He gazed at the chaos around the disembarkment area.
"These men tried to take my nephew away," said Dr. Fu, taking a deep breath. "My nephew is a Wu Shu champion, and defended himself."
"I am?," said Jackie, looking perplexed. "Yes, I am a Wu Shu champion."
"Got some knives here," said one of the guards, after searching the men. He held one up. It was marked with the same symbol as the one Dr. Fu had knocked to the floor.
"Come with me," said the guard. "Get the police department to hold these guys. We'll wait in my office if you don't mind."
"Wu Shu?," whispered Jackie, falling into the slight jog the security guard had set.
"Wu Shu, Kung Fu," said the good doctor, keeping up with the younger men. "All the same with me."
"You get hit by Bao Bien Shen," said Jackie. "It won't all be the same to you then."
"You sound like your father," said Dr. Fu. "What's more important is why those tigers wanted you."
"Tigers?," said Jackie, pausing in mid‑step. "I don't know, or why they had the tiger symbol carved on their knives."
"We'll find out once the police are done with us," said Dr. Fu. "What exactly brought you to America?"
"I thought I was going to take a vacation with my free time," said the younger man.
Dr. Fu and Jackie answered every question ten times. They had no idea why someone would assault Jackie and try to kidnap him. He worked for the Hong Kong Museum of Natural History and had taken some vacation time.
The last thing he was involved with was a statue excavated out of the wilderness of Indonesia, and taken to a local museum there.
He was not carrying a lot of money, and had no credit cards.
Dr. Fu was a local fixture in the city, especially in Chinatown where he lived. He was comfortable on the income he deprived from being consulted in weird problems. He had even helped the police on numerous occasions.
Something didn't jibe about the whole thing to the detective, but the doctor and his nephew were the victims. He made a note to have the two talk to a sketch artist, before leaving the airport. He still had to interrogate the fish that had been caught. EMTs had taken the one that was paralyzed to the hospital.
A pinched nerve had been Dr. Fu's diagnosis.
The detective didn't think so, but said nothing. He filed the comment, checking with the Crime Scene Unit. Nothing specific had been learned which was natural in a busy airport.
Dr. Fu led his nephew across town to his place in Chinatown. They entered the shop, talking about the city's history. Dr. Fu went to his shelves, where he kept the items he had collected over the years as the city's defender.
He turned to show Jackie a knife marked in the same way as the knives at the airport. He placed the bloodstained object back in its place.
"That was from a cult serving a man calling himself the Tiger Devil. They clashed with a fellow countryman here in the forties during the Great War. He had thought he crushed them, exposing them to the authorities," said the doctor. "Either he was wrong, or someone has adopted their methods and means to get what they want."
"Uncle," said Jackie. "I swear I am on vacation. It's my first one in years. I was supposed to take one last year, but the museum asked me to recover that artifact I told the detective about."
"What did this artifact look like?," asked Dr. Fu.
"It was a statue that resembled a man with a cat's head, I think," said the relic hunter. "It looked like a..."
"A tiger's head," finished Dr. Fu for his nephew. "How many people touched it?"
"Did we touch it?," asked Jackie. "Of course. I did. A bunch of loaders. The curator."
"Are any of them still alive?," asked Dr. Fu.
"I don't know," said Jackie. "I left Indonesia, and returned to Hong Kong as soon as the artifact was delivered to the museum."
"Anybody know you retrieved the thing?," asked Dr. Fu.
"I guess anybody would be able to find out if they asked," said Jackie. "It wasn't a state secret."
"Let me make a call and see what I can find out," said Dr. Fu. "Make yourself comfortable."
Jackie walked around the small shop, looking at the souvenirs and objects. He wondered what the stories were behind these things. Ancient books stood beside hand drawn maps and scrolls.
"I have some information," said Dr. Fu. "All of the other people who touched that statue are dead. You're the last one still alive."
"Marvelous," said Jackie. "Any reason why other than pure fanaticism?"
"As far as I can make out because you have signaled the end of the world," said Dr. Fu.
"Uncle, there is no way that statue was unnatural," said Jackie. "Let me restate that."
"I know what you meant," said Dr. Fu, holding up a hand. "We have to get to the bottom of this before something else happens."
"What else could possibly happen?," asked Jackie.
The screeching of locked wheels burned against the street outside the small building. Men jumped out of two vans and rushed the door. Jackie glanced out the storefront as he ran for the door.
"Me and my big mouth," Jackie complained as he grabbed the door handle to prevent entry.
Jackie jumped up, bracing his feet against frame, trying to hold the door shut. Two thumps precluded a crash that sent him to the floor. Men holding marked knives stood in the shattered door frame.
"What is the problem here, gentlemen?," Dr. Fu said, putting himself between the intruders and his nephew.
"No problem, as long as he comes with us," said the large spokesman of the group.
"We'll both go," said Dr. Fu, quietly.
"We will?," asked Jackie, from the floor.
"I would like to see the man behind this," said the doctor.
"You're joking," said Jackie. "These men aren't here to give us a tour of San Francisco."
"Would you excuse us for a moment?," Dr. Fu asked the tiger devils, waving them out of the house. "We'll be right there."
"What?," said the spokesman, looking at his assistants on either side of him. They seemed as befuddled as he was.
"We'll be right there," said Dr. Fu, soothingly. "You can watch us through the window."
"No tricks," said the spokesman.
"No tricks," said the good doctor, smiling.
The tiger devils went and waited outside for the two to exit.
"Are you crazy?," asked Jackie, getting to his feet and looking for a back door. "Those guys want to do unspeakable things to us."
"Calm down, Jackie," said Dr. Fu, waving at the spokesman with a grin. "He is just taking us to the one person who has all the answers. I think that would be faster than asking the one I paralyzed. What do you think?"
"I think we should run away really fast," said Jackie, sullenly.
"I am not doing that," said the Doctor, with a sharp gesture of his hand. "That won't get us anywhere."
"Let's go," said Jackie.
Uncle and nephew walked out of the small place. Dr. Fu locked the building up from any intrusion with a set of symbols drawn on the door.
"Back seat, please," said the spokesman for the Tiger Devils, gesturing with a hand.
Jackie and Dr. Fu were sandwiched between two of the large men, as others piled in the front. The cars pulled away from the curb, heading away from Chinatown on the hilly streets of the city.
"So much for a vacation," Jackie complained, holding his head on his hands.
"As soon as we find out what is going on, I will show you the sites," said Dr. Fu, so confident that the Tiger Devils could not even smirk at the remark.
Dr. Fu had built his reputation in Chinatown, in San Francisco, by accomplishing the impossible and making it look easy. All of these men were aware that at any time, they would have to fight for their lives, and watched him with great caution.
The two car rolled away from the city. They passed the small city of Cemetery, and then headed east towards the mountains. They arrived in the small town of Sabertooth an hour later. The ride had been silent for the men after Jackie's complaint.
It would be up to the master to explain why they had been brought before the judgement of the Tigers.
The cars pulled to a stop in a farmyard outside of the small town. The men piled out, stretching their limbs to restore circulation. The farm house beckoned Dr. Fu and Jackie forward. The Tigers formed a crescent behind the two to show their caution and respect.
The Tiger Devils had no doubt the two would meet a final end at the hands of their deadly master.
Dr. Fu led the way, pulling aside the outer screen door, opening the wooden door. He stepped inside, Jackie at his back.
The inside walls had been knocked down so that one room was left in the house. Heavy curtains draped the walls with painted tigers prowling imaginary jungles. A lit brazier provided smokey light to see by. A very thin Oriental man sat beside the brazier, breathing in the thick sweet scent that filled the air.
"Ah, Dr. Fu," said the man, eyes bright with an inner light. "I had hoped to avoid your attention for many more years but, alas it was not to be. I am Hu Mo, the master of ceremonies for the movement."
"Hu Mo?," said Dr. Fu, hiding caution behind a veil of irritation. "You could not come up with a better alias? It is not very original."
"My nom de guerre is not important," said the Tiger Devil. "All that matters is that your nephew has touched the statue of Kuei Lei Hu, and has awakened the spirit within. I mean to use that connection to draw the spirit here so that I might use it as I will."
"You do not want much," said Fu. "What happens to Jackie when this is over?"
"He is free to go when the ceremony is done and the spirit is ready to be used by me," said Hu Mo, smiling slightly. "Otherwise it will follow until it catches him and disposes of him. When that is done, its brothers will awaken and begin their assault on humanity, destroying any who oppose them. I am sure you know this already."
"What are you saying?," said Jackie, visibly shaken. "Some spirit is coming here to kill me and you want to use me as bait to trap it. Are you insane? I am not doing that."
"My guards say otherwise," said Hu Mo, making a gesture.
A taser was applied to Jackie's back without warning. He went down hard, blacking out under the electrical impact.
He awoke an hour later, he judged by the cramps in his chained arms and legs. Small cuts littered his face and hands where he had hit the floor in uncontrollable spasms.
"The next time a magician and leader of a dangerous cult wants to use you as bait," said Dr. Fu from somewhere close by. "Go along until you can escape."
"I am sorry, Uncle," said Jackie, unable to move, except to squirm slightly against the rough floor. "What do we do now?"
"We wait for the spirit to arrive to possess your body, and hope for a chance to escape before they know what is happening."
Jackie hung his head glumly. He was bound tight in his cocoon of metal. He would be of little use if anything was required of him.
Some time later, Hu Mo and a circle of cultists appeared. The Tiger Devils silently lifted Jackie on their shoulders and took him out of the storage room.
"We shall return for you when the ceremony is over," Hu Mo assured his fellow mage, checking the wards on the chains holding Dr. Fu in place. "Your nephew will be a changed man."
"That's what I am afraid of," said the doctor quietly.
Hu Mo laughed pleasantly as he left Fu to ponder his fate. He would not have laughed so loud if he had known Dr. Fu had devised a plan to rescue himself and Jackie from harm, and was carrying it out.
Dr. Fu could not work any of his own magic while enchained. That did not stop him from applying his skills he had learned from his fifty years as a detective and protector of Chinatown. He worked a piece of metal out of his pocket. It took some time to get his hands in position, but he picked the lock as fast as his awkward position would allow. The chains fell noisily away as he stood up.
The door opened as his guard checked on the ruckus he had caused. Dr. Fu demonstrated that Jackie wasn't the only one who knew a martial art by kicking the man's jaw out of alignment. The magician grabbed the guard and dragged him into the cell. The crusader straightened his tie as he walked to the site of the ceremony.
Time to stop this nonsense once and for all.
Dr. Fu paused at the door, locking a Tiger Devil in a strangle hold to gain some bit of surprise. He laid the man on the floor, deciding his next step.
The ceremony was under way, and Dr. Fu knew he didn't have long.
Dr. Fu wrote two symbols on his hand. One of the symbols glowed against his skin, and he faded out of sight. He worked his way through the crowd, trying to avoid a touch that would alert his enemy to his presence. He reached the stone table that had been set up to hold Jackie up for his sacrifice to the spirit tiger.
He wrote on the lock with a fingertip. The chains immediately loosened around Jackie, who began to work his way slowly out of his bondage. He stepped away from the altar, after writing two more symbols on Jackie's arm.
Nothing to do now but to wait.
His trap was set. He had only to wait for his fish to bite.
It wouldn't be long.
A shadow took form, growing into a large furred humanoid with a tiger's head on a large muscular body. It regarded the crowd suspiciously as it approached the wiggling Jackie. Hu Mo held up his hands, prepared to execute his spell.
He was not prepared for Jackie jumping to his feet, shedding his chains like water. Dr. Fu's nephew leaped from the table, kicking the ghost back through the wall. Jackie landed lightly, smashing the edge of his hand against the nose of a man who had tried to make a grab of the martial artist.
"Fu!," roared the angry Hu Mo. "What do you think you are doing?"
"Don't worry about, Uncle," said Jackie, face settled in hard lines, twisting his head with the sound of crackling from his neck. "He is not the one who's going to hurt you."
The first man to rush Jackie as he advanced on Hu Mo got a length of chain around his wrist and thrown across the table. The second just got the end of the improvised whip across his face from a backstroke. The Tiger went down in a heap.
The spirit cycled back through the wall, roaring silently in displeasure. A cultist got in its way, and received a claw digging in his back, smashing him across the floor.
The men backed up out of the way.
Jackie dropped the chain, as the spirit roared down on him. He vaulted the table, kicking the fallen Tiger in the face as he passed. The spirit bounded through the dark stone, impervious to normal substances.
"Stop!," roared Hu Mo, as Jackie ran toward him. "I said stop!"
"Why don't you stop?"
Jackie ran around the cult leader, putting the man between him and the spirit. Hu Mo cursed as he blocked the first two claw strikes with his forearms. Then a jump kick to his back sent him and the spirit to the floor, the Kuei Lei Hu, sinking below the surface of the floor as it skidded along.
"What just happened?," Jackie and Dr. Fu said to themselves.
Hu Mo clambered to his feet, holding the spirit by its neck.
"That's the one I want you to get," he said, pointing at Jackie. "He's your body, stupid."
Hu Mo flung the spirit at Jackie. Jackie fell on his back, foot extended in a monkey flip. The kuei flew over Jackie, and crashed into the floor. Jackie used the rebound from the throw to flip to his feet. He spun, sinking into his stance, ready to continue fighting.
None of the Tiger Devils wanted to get close to the fight going on in the center of the room. Only when Hu Mo ordered it, did the men unwillingly approach. They were no match for the two combatants exchanging blows.
Dr. Fu approached the fuming Hu Mo invisibly. He wrote a symbol on Hu Mo's back. Mist enveloped the cult leader head to foot. When it cleared, an orange yellow humanoid with a dark orange face stood there with a wide mouth and very large ears. A mop of gray brown hair perched atop its head.
"My disguise!," said Hu Mo, holding up his wide arms. "What happened to my disguise?"
Dr. Fu leaped into the air, his invisibility lost by going on the offense. He spun in place, extending his leg out. His foot smashed into the enraged Hu Mo, sending him in a stagger. Dr. Fu landed lightly, as his opponent tried to shrug off the blow.
The Tiger Devils trying to halt Jackie long enough for him to be held for his possession found themselves chasing a dervish as he dodged their attacks, redirecting them into the path of the spirit tiger who cut them down with its massive claws hooked on the end of its long arms.
The cultists were unable to stop themselves from obeying the command of Hu Mo as they kept trying to stop Jackie until they were knocked down senseless.
On the other side of the room, Hu Mo and Dr. Fu exchanged a flurry of punches, blocks, and counterpunches to determine whose magic would hold the field. The doctor knew his human stamina would never keep up with his demonic foe. He needed a trick to win.
He cast about until he saw a clay jar on the floor in the corner. He retreated in that direction until the jar was at his feet. He ducked a hammering right, snatching the jar up. Straightening he dropped the open mouth of the jar over Hu Mo's head. He wrote on the bottom with his finger before the Tiger Devil could stop him. Instantly the demon was sucked into the old container. Dr. Fu clapped the lid on the trap and sealed it with another symbol.
Dr. Fu's move freed the cultists from their leader's commands. Those that could fled from the house, leaving Jackie and the Kuei Lei Hu to finish their own fight.
The doctor had his own ideas about what the outcome should be.
Dr. Fu looked for another container, and found a tea pot. He wrote on it hastily as he prepared to execute his plan.
Dr. Fu held the tea pot in one hand, and the lid in the other. He walked over to the fight. He ignored the shouts of outrage from the jar as he considered his next move.
"Jackie," he called, waving the pot.
Both combatants turned on Fu. The kuei rushed at him, aware that the pot was some kind of container. Jackie took three steps, jumped on the stone table, and then sailed through the air in a kick that sent both of them down to the ground. Jackie rolled away from spirit as it tried to draw an x on his chest. Dust from the floor rewarded the thing's attempt.
The kuei bounded to its feet as Jackie backed away on his hands and feet. It roared as it drew back its claws to deal with its suddenly helpless prey. It brought down the killing blow as the tea pot landed in Jackie's fumbling hands. It tried to stop itself, but its hand went into the top of the pot and kept going.
All was blackness and constraint for it. It roared in disapproval and anger as seals were applied to keep it trapped.
"I am glad that is over," Jackie said, wiping his face with the back of his hand.
Death Written in Kanji epilogue
Dr. Fu placed the jar and tea pot in his small vault in the basement of his home. The statue of the Green Goddess smiled at him benevolently as he bowed to it and withdrew.
Fu Chang and Tay Ming would be happy the Tiger Devil was no longer a threat to their beloved Chinatown. He smiled at the thought of his countrymen, thinking he must send them a letter when he had the time. He locked the door to the basement as he left.
"This is the life," said Jackie, laying on a couch in Dr. Fu's personal quarters watching a basketball game on television. "Thank you for letting me stay here for my vacation."
"No problem," said Dr. Fu, going to his small refrigerator and pulling out a Coke. He watched a player sink a jump shot from the three point line, listening to commentary by Dick Vitale. "You want to take the tour tomorrow?"
"Sure," said Jackie, going and grabbing a Coke for himself as the game was replaced by a commercial. "What about your business?"
"I think I can take a small vacation without any problem," said Dr. Fu, sipping at his soda.
The front door banged open with the clatter of the bell. Dr. Fu and Jackie went to see what was wrong. A man stood in the shop, clutching an emerald. Bandages covered his face.
"Dr. Fu?," he gasped out. "You have to help me break the curse of Killarny."
Uncle and nephew exchanged a glance.
"Okay," said the doctor, with a small smile.
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